Women-only Professorships in Ireland

Posted in Education, Politics with tags , , , , on November 16, 2018 by telescoper

Earlier this week the Irish Government made an announcement that has ruffled a few feathers: it aims to create a number of new senior positions at Professor level in Irish Universities that are open only to female candidates. I don’t know the details of how this scheme will work, but I understand that the positions will be targeted at subject (and perhaps geographical) areas in which there is a demonstrable gender imbalance and the scheme will cost about €6M.

Reactions to this among people I know have been very varied, so it seems a good topic on which to have a  simplistically binary poll:

For the record, I should state that I am broadly in favour of the idea, but I’d like to know more about how these positions will be allocated to institutions, how they will be advertised and how the recruitment will be done. I’ll also add that my main worry about this initiative is that it might distract attention away from the need for Irish higher education institutions to have much better promotion procedures; see, e.g. here. There are plenty of female lecturers in Irish universities, but they seem to face ridiculous difficulties getting promoted to Professorships.




The Dublin Castle Scandal (1884) and “The Unspeakable Crime”

Posted in History, LGBT with tags , on November 16, 2018 by telescoper

This is quite a lengthy blog post but it gives an absolutely fascinating insight in a story of the underground gay subculture of Dublin in the 1880s…

Come Here To Me!

The Dublin Castle homosexual scandal of 1884 is a complex story. It involves more than a dozen characters that were introduced over a series of separate criminal trials. All sections of society were involved. The upper echelons of serving police detectives, eminent civil servants and British Army captains. Aspirational middle-class bank clerks and Trinity college graduates. Right down to the semi-blind brothel-keepers and young male prostitutes who were described as “persons of the lowest class of life”. All of these men were accused in newspapers and in court of having same-sex physical relationships. Irish society was shocked.

My main interest is in one specific aspect of the scandal – the backgrounds and post-prison lives of three men who were convicted of running homosexual brothels in the city in 1884.

But before that, a very brief background.

Tim Healy (Irish Nationalist MP) accused two high-ranking British establishment figures, of being homosexual in the United…

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What are we going to do now?

Posted in Politics, Television with tags , on November 15, 2018 by telescoper

On this tumultuous day in British politics, this blog is proud to be able to show exclusive behind-the-scenes footage of the Cabinet discussions at Number 10 Downing Street:

Gravitational Wave Controversy Updates

Posted in The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , on November 14, 2018 by telescoper

Following my recent post about the claims and counter-claims concerning the detection (or otherwise) of gravitational waves, I have a couple of updates.

First, a few days ago there appeared a paper on the arXiv by Nielsen et al with the abstract (which I’ve slightly edited for formatting reasons):

We use the Pearson cross-correlation statistic proposed by Liu & Jackson (2016), and employed by Creswell et al. (2017), to look for statistically significant correlations between the LIGO Hanford and Livingston detectors at the time of the binary black hole merger GW150914. We compute this statistic for the calibrated strain data released by LIGO, using both the residuals provided by LIGO and using our own subtraction of a maximum-likelihood waveform that is constructed to model binary black hole mergers in general relativity. To assign a significance to the values obtained, we calculate the cross-correlation of both simulated Gaussian noise and data from the LIGO detectors at times during which no detection of gravitational waves has been claimed. We find that after subtracting the maximum likelihood waveform there are no statistically significant correlations between the residuals of the two detectors at the time of GW150914.

The four authors of this paper are, I believe, either present or former members of the LIGO Collaboration

Meanwhile, the NBI group behind the Cresswell et al. paper challenged by the above paper has issued a statement which you can read here. The group re-iterate points made in the New Scientist article discussed in my recent post. Although the Nielsen et al. paper is not explicitly mentioned in the NBI statement but I’m given to understand that the Danish group does not agree with the conclusions in that paper.

The story continues.

Moving Memories

Posted in Biographical, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , on November 13, 2018 by telescoper

Yesterday evening I suddenly realized that today would be the anniversary of a significant milestone in my life. It was 20 years ago today (on 13th November 1998) that I moved from London to Beeston in Nottingham prior to starting as Professor of Astrophysics at Nottingham University on 1st January 1999. That means I’ve been a Professor for almost twenty years!

I remember it was Friday 13th November 1998 when I took possession of the house I’d bought in Marlborough Road. I picked that particular day to complete the purchase (and sale of my flat in Bethnal Green) because a removals firm offered me a very cheap deal: normally nobody wants to move house on Friday 13th, so they were happy when I turned out not to be superstitious. The move worked out very smoothly, in fact.

This picture taken in the Beeston residence that very day. You can see one of the removal men in the background:

I was still working at Queen Mary until the end of December 1998 so I had to commute to London and back for over a month after relocating, which wasn’t ideal, but bearable knowing that it wasn’t going to last forever, and that from the New Year I would be able to walk into work on the Nottingham University campus rather than trekking by train to London.

I did think leaving London would be a wrench, and that I would probably end up going back frequently to spend time with my old friends and visit regular haunts, but that didn’t really happen, and after living outside the Capital for a while I lost all inclination to ever return. Living in London is great fun when you’re young, but loses its attraction when you’re getting on a bit. That’s what I found, anyway.

It was exciting starting the new job in Nottingham. There wasn’t an Astronomy group as such prior to January 1999, but with the formation of a new group the School of Physics became the School of Physics & Astronomy, and the influx of astronomers helped the School both to expand its research portfolio and become more attractive to students. It was hard work helping to build that from scratch, but I’m glad that it worked out well. It is good to see the Astronomy group and indeed the whole School continuing to prosper, although some of my former colleagues there have now retired.

I moved to Cardiff in 2007 and eventually sold the Beeston house in 2008, after a long delay due to the Credit Crunch, and bought a house in Pontcanna which I still own.

It’s strange to think all that happened 20 years ago. I’ve just finished giving a lecture to our second-year students, most of whom weren’t even born in 1998! And I certainly never imagined back then than in twenty years I’d be living in Ireland!

R.I.P. James Stirling (1953-2018)

Posted in The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , on November 12, 2018 by telescoper

I’m sorry that this blog is once again the bearer of bad news, but it is my sad duty to pass on the news that distinguished particle physicist James Stirling (pictured above) passed away yesterday at the age of 65.

Professor James Stirling was one of the leading lights of the Institute for Particle Physics Phenomenology in Durham (of which he was the first Director) and subsequently became Jacksonian Professor of Natural Philosophy and Head of the Cavendish Laboratory at the University of Cambridge. More recently he was Provost of Imperial College, a post from which he stepped down earlier this year. He was elected to a Fellowship of the Royal Society in 1999, and awarded a CBE in the New Years Honours List in 2006.

As well as being an eminent physicist, with over 300 publications to his name including fundamental contributions to the field of hadronic interactions and perturbative QCD, Professor Stirling also gave great service to the research community, by serving on numerous important committees, including the Science Board of the Science & Technology Facilities Council (STFC).

Not being a particle physicist myself I didn’t know James as a close colleague, but I met him on several occasions during visits to Durham. Most recently, he was the external member of the appointment panel when I was interviewed for the post of Head of School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences at the University of Sussex. It says a lot for his personality that what I expected to be a fierce grilling when he led the questions on my research, turned out to he a friendly (yet challenging) discussion of some of my publications which he had clearly read extremely carefully.

James Stirling was held in extremely high regard by the scientific community and he’ll be greatly missed.I send my deepest condolences to his family, friends and colleagues.

R.I.P. Professor James Stirling (1953-2018)

Private Arnold Ridley

Posted in History, Television with tags , , , on November 11, 2018 by telescoper

You probably recognize the elderly gentleman in the photograph on the right as Arnold Ridley who played Private Godfrey in the TV comedy series Dad’s Army. You might not have realized that the person on the left is also Arnold Ridley, photographed shortly after he enlisted in the Somerset Light Infantry in 1915. You also may not know that Ridley fought with great courage in the Battle of the Somme in 1916, during which he was very badly injured.

After being ordered to go `over the top’ near Gueudecourt as part of the Somme offensive, many of Ridley’s battalion were killed by machine gun fire as they advanced towards the enemy lines, but Ridley was among those who survived long enough to reach the German trenches.

In the desperate hand-to-hand struggle that ensued as he and the rest of unit fought their way along a trench, Ridley was knocked out by a blow from a rifle butt that turned out to have cracked his skull, and was bayonetted in the groin. His legs were riddled with shrapnel and he received a further bayonet wound to the hand, which left him permanently disabled. Somehow he survived, though for the rest of his life he suffered from blackouts and recurrent nightmares. He was discharged from the army on medical grounds in 1916, at the rank of Lance Corporal.

He never told anyone – not even his family – how he sustained his wartime injuries, and the facts only became known long after his death (in 1984, at the age of 88).